Monday, March 26, 2012

Dying Well; Living Well

I watched another episode of The Little House on the Prairie with mom last night. It was one starring Patricia Neal, who played a single mother with three small children. It opens with her visiting the doctor, and finding out bad news. She goes back to her farm where Charles Ingles is plowing her field for her, and she walks up to him, thanks him for his hard work, and then says: “Charles, I’m going to die. Soon.”

Charles does the expected questioning of her: “Are you sure?” And after she responds, he doesn’t know what to say, but just hangs his head. And then Patricia Neal says in a firm voice: “Charles, I need your help now, not your sympathy. I’ve got a lot of things to do and not much time. I need to find someone to take care of my children.” And Charles promises to help her. She eventually presents her petition to the little town church congregation that Sunday, and says “I know it takes 9 months to make a child, so I don’t expect you to take on three right now, so think on it.”

It’s an amazing episode of the strength of the mother, the children, and her fellow neighbors in facing up to the inevitability of death. There are many stories of faith conveyed among the people and the children, and of trust in God. At the episode’s end, at the graveside, the pastor reads a short note the mother had asked to be read “loudly, pastor, and don’t mumble. They’ll need to hear this.”

And so he read: “Remember me with smiles and laughter. If you can only remember me with tears, then don’t remember me at all.” And then the episode closes, and you never really find out which family agreed to adopt her children, because that wasn’t important to the lesson being taught. I enjoyed that episode very much; I had written about it previously here, a while back. It seems appropriate to glance at it again.

Orig: 7/19/09

Mom likes watching animals and little kids on television. Last week we began watching some re-runs of The Little House On The Prairie. We watched an episode where a neighbor woman, whose husband died, works the farm and cares for her 3 kids. Then she visits a doctor and finds out she is dying. She comes home that night and tells her children: “Soon I am going to be in heaven with your father.” Her oldest boy cries: “Oh God. How could this be happening?” The mother chastises him: “Don’t you take the name of God in vain. And you stop crying right now. I am going to a wonderful place; if you are crying it is not for me, it is for yourself. And I thought I taught you better than to be selfish.” The boy apologizes, and everyone hugs.

At the church next Sunday, the mother asks for a family to volunteer to take in her children, when the time comes. After church, the mother invites the neighbor Engels family on a picnic: “It’s a nice day.” During the picnic, the kids are playing and the mother gets up to join them, but Mrs Engels asks if she is well enough. She responds: “I want my children to remember me laughing; I’ve got to show them the right example.” And all the adults join in on the games.

Meanwhile, young Laura Engels sits alone next to a tree. Her dad comes over and asks what’s wrong. She responds: “Look at her, dad. She’s dying, and she’s playing like it’s not important.” Her dad says: “Yes, she’s dying and will be going to heaven. You know that, and that is not a bad thing.” Laura then asks: “How old is she?” “About 35.” “You and mom are in your thirty’s. What would happen to us if you died?” And then dad replies: “Laura, you can spend your whole life worrying about things you cannot change. And before you know it, your life comes to an end, and you have never lived it. Look at them playing there. That’s what life is about: Laughing and loving and knowing they’re not really gone when they die.”

After we watched that show, I flipped the channel to the news, and immediately saw the images of the 5 teens killed at the train crossing. I wondered if any of their families had watched that Little House On The Prairie episode. I hope so, but probably not. I hope that someone, somewhere, gave them that message about what life is about. And I hope it gives them peace.

We’ve watched a few more episodes of the series since that day last week. Each one had a wonderful moral message, one which could be understood by watching children and adults alike. They were each an excellent teaching moment, an opportunity for parents to talk about and children to see and learn some of the very serious, very important moral lessons of life.

I don’t remember watching much of The Little House On The Prairie series when it first aired. Maybe I was busy with school, maybe with work. But I now know I missed something then. The few television series which I glance at today usually have parents and children yelling at each other, hating each other, belittling each other. Aren’t there any homes where parents still talk to their children, teach them, hug them, talk to them about God? Pray together? I hope so, but they’re certainly not shown as “reality” television.

Some people describe the old family television series from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s as “fantasy families”. Well, perhaps America needs more fantasy, and less reality. It certainly needs more morality on television. Meanwhile, my time with mom has me watching the re-runs of Little House On The Prairie.

I’m not too old to learn from their moral lessons; I’m not too old to be reminded of timeless wisdom. And to give thanks to God for my family.

When was the last time you watched a television show which inspired you to pray, and give thanks for your blessings?

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